‘The Beginning of the Long Dash’ Turned 80 This Week


Happy Anniversary to CBC Radio’s longest running segment

by CBC Radio · 

For 80 years, the National Research Council official time signal has helped keep Canadians in sync. It celebrated a milestone anniversary on Nov. 5. (Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images)

In the 1930s, it helped sailors properly set their instruments for navigation.

It allowed railway companies to be punctual, and helped Canadians set their watches with precision every day.

Today, if you’re a CBC Radio aficionado, you may recognize its repeated beeps over the airwaves every day just before 1 p.m. ET (10 am PT).

To many, the National Research Council official time signal is a fixture of Canadian society. And on Nov. 5, the longest running segment on CBC Radio turned 80 years old.

Day 6 host Brent Bambury spoke with Laurence Wall, one of the current voices of the National Research Council time signal, about its origins, its importance, and where it stands in the digital age.

Here is part of their conversation.

Laurence, I love hearing your voice, and people must recognize you when you’re out in public. Have you ever heard someone say, “Hey, are you the time signal?”

It’s usually taxi drivers, because they listen to the CBC all the time.

I was at an event that I was hosting and the organizer introduced me as the guy who does the time signal. And a young man came up to me after the event and told me that he had lived in Hong Kong for two years, and at different times he was terribly homesick.

So his solution — because there’s a 12 hour [time] difference — he would stay up until 1 a.m. and listen for the time signal opener, and that got him through. Every time he heard that, he was reconnected to home.

Laurence, why do we even have a time signal?

It goes back to 1939. The [Second World War] had just begun. It was two months old at that point and timekeeping was still relatively primitive. People had watches, they had clocks, of course. But these had to be constantly wound and you had to readjust it all the time, and you never really knew if your time was accurate or not.

It was critical for groups like railways, shipping companies and so on. So they brought in the Dominion Observatory time signal — that was the original form.



  1. Thank heavens union rules allow for these announcements to be recorded, otherwise there would be an announcer working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week doing nothing but giving the time. This job would be almost as exciting as repeating “Mind the gap” in the London Underground.


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